Global mobility has suffered in the pandemic, but there is a growing expectation that business travel, secondments and relocation will all increase over the coming months - putting travel risk mitigation under the spotlight. We ask Jonathan Brown, Risk Team Manager for Charles Taylor Assistance, to share his views on the shape of things to come…
As international mobility gains pace, will organisations with globally mobile staff be more aware of risk?
Travel risk management used to be a niche area, but Covid-19 has shown that risks can impact virtually everyone who travels, in a very real and practical way.
There is now an increased awareness of the need to be proactive when it comes to travel risk: to plan for a wide range of changing risk scenarios, and to be nimble and ready to adapt at a moment's notice. It follows that travel risk management has become a day-to-day necessity for businesses with globally mobile staff, not a one-off box-ticking exercise.
No one knows how many businesses will want to fully resume their employee travel agendas post-Covid, or if Zoom meetings will permanently replace some face-to-face alternatives. But it is likely that a lot of organisations will want to access travel risk management capabilities quickly and easily, without necessarily employing a dedicated risk manager.
What’s most distinctive about current travel risks?
Before Covid-19, travel risks tended to be related to long-term trends (the obvious exceptions being some natural disasters and terrorist attacks); predictable or steadily growing dangers that could be monitored and planned for. Of course, these same risks remain, but they have been supplemented by the rapidly-changing threats of the pandemic and the global response.
These rapidly changing threats mean that travel risk assessments either have to be constantly re-formulated or plans need to deal with a wide range of scenarios. The latter could cover everything from the risk of travel disruption and strict quarantines when a country changes its travel advice overnight, to the impact of Covid-19 on other areas that may already be fragile, such as hospital capacity and the availability of medical supplies.
Despite everything that has been learned over the past year, we need to remember that Covid-19 is still a new threat and that the assumptions we’re currently making may not hold. For instance, vaccines have only just been developed and we don’t yet know if they will remain effective against new variants of the virus.
What about future risks?
Here at Charles Taylor Assistance, we’ve serviced requests for travel risk management throughout the pandemic. These have come from clients carrying out essential travel, not least those working in transport, manufacturing and support services, as well as NGOs and the extraction and emergency response sectors.
We’re constantly monitoring developments in the easing of global travel restrictions and any associated implications for ourselves and our clients. And we know that organisations mobilising global staff will be facing difficult questions - for instance, are they willing to do business in a country where hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed by a spike in Covid cases? Are they willing to absorb the risk and the expense of pulling staff out of an area before official travel guidance has changed? To what extent will they be prepared to tolerate elevated levels of risk compared with the pre-pandemic situation?
Organisations will need to understand the breakdown of their risks and work out what they are most concerned about - and to recognise that threats will often combine a number of factors.
Many employers have always taken travel risk mitigation seriously and have continued to send individuals abroad who present a high medical risk. Going forward, there’s likely to be a greater demand for employees’ medical conditions and histories - including mental health - to be taken into account before they travel to an area where emergency response capabilities are limited, or liable to be overwhelmed.
When it comes to offering advice to companies looking for risk management partners, I would say, choose an agile provider that’s able to help plan for changes and to respond quickly when these changes materialise. Focus on those who work with a global network of partners with 'on the ground' capabilities and who can provide an appropriate suite of digital risk management solutions.
How important is automation to travel risk management?
In the context of global mobility, everyone needs to be aware of the risks, not just team managers - and technology is critical here.
We’ve seen growing demand for our own digital risk assessment tool, Venture, which can quickly identify the percentage of individuals within a business (global or otherwise) who are most at risk of developing severe Covid-19, who have had recent exposure to the virus, are waiting for test results and more.
Tools like Venture, which sends automated outcomes to both employees and employers, can provide vital MI and analytics to mitigate liability or claims risks for corporates and insurers; driving accurate underwriting decisions and risk visibility.
Apps and webinars are also playing a vital part in training and informing the globally mobile. Individuals are likely to be constantly checking for information and updates, which is prompting app providers to be more proactive: an app can’t simply be populated and then reviewed in a year’s time, it needs to constantly push out new and relevant information to users.
The same goes for digital medical support. Telemedicine and digital doctor are now an integral part of travel risk provision, especially in remote areas of the world. Meanwhile, social media channels such as WhatsApp are commonly being used by patients overseas to share medical information with their assistance providers; helping with diagnoses and accelerating access to suitable care, especially when in-country medical resources are stretched.
The opportunities are endless - and this is a time when travellers and travel risk management providers need to be more proactive, flexible and innovative than ever.